Monday 15 February 2010

Does Mr Ehrenberg believe... ?

Looting Matters has a thought-provoking text about the further developments in the Baltimore illegal coin import stunt resulting from the efforts of the Professional Numismatic Group and the International Association of Professional Numismatists to challenge new US regulations on antiquity imports from China and Cyprus. The US dugup coin dealers' lobby group the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild is also involved in this action. Now an action has been filed on behalf of the ACCG (as plaintiff) against the US Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security; the Commissioner, US Customs and Border Protection; the US Department of State; and specifically the Assistant Secretary of State (educational and cultural Affairs), United States Department of State. (The pdf can be found here). The case is being handled by Jason H. Ehrenberg , a Washington employment law specialist from Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC and asks

Does Mr Ehrenberg [...] care if archaeological sites on Cyprus are being looted to provide archaeological material for the market? Or is the issue about the right to collect and to own antiquities?
Or indeed sell them no-questions-asked? Is this not about protecting the livelihood of no-questions-asked dealers who would find their sources of coins severely restricted if they had to provide a proper paper trail for the artefacts they handle like those in other branches of the retail trade such as butchers and grocers? Is this why the ACCG has used its members' funds to engage a specialist in employment law? Laughable.

Even more comical, as noted by David Gill, is the use of the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia as a cited authority in the legal papers (section 61), seen in the context of the recent comments about academic journals by a book-shy partner at Bailey & Ehrenberg discussed recently in this blog. Not very professional, laughable in fact.

The whole text of the application filed to Maryland District court has a familiar ring to it, we find in it the same conspiracy theories aired by junior partner Peter Tompa in his tinfoil helmet blog. Mr Ehrenberg solemnly put his signature under a text containing such nonsense signifying that he believes the facts, pseudo-facts, insinuations and speculations therein to be something the court should take seriously. Laughable. The reader can judge for themselves, but Section 24 contains some dubious definitions, let us hope the court (if this case is not thrown out after the judge has finished laughing) asks some social anthropologists about what it is that Ehrenburg is defining there. I guess that's what you get for not reading books. Section 89 is remarkably coy about stating who actually bought the coins, and who they were actually bought from. This is interesting because the court is apparently required to believe (in adjudicating in the favour of the importer) that the coins were indeed acquired by them from a legal source, but without having the ability to contact them to check whether that is the case. The names of both seller and buyer should be visible in this document. Since, however it is said (section 89) that it was the 'ACCG' who bought the coins, and the address of the ACCG is given at the head of the document, it is a reasonable assumption that the coins were intercepted being sent to the  Gainsville  MO address given there, which is interesting to note. 

The whole bundle of alleged improprieties that are catalogued in this suit, if they were all looked into by the court would make this into a marathon trial, costing a great deal of money. It seems to me however that this has been compiled as a "nuisance claim", just for the sake of attracting attention and putting a spanner in the works. After all, the ACCG has raiseed 80 000$ or more from its members to fight this action, so they obviously are obliged to produce something to show for it. It seems the best their lawyers can do is cobble together the stuff from Tompa's website, and add a bit of legal waffle (but unbelievably actually missing out a mention of the most important piece of US legislation which is fundamental to clinching the case - that's what you get when you get an employment law specialist to produce a suit about cultural property) .

In a comment to the Looting matters text Wayne Sayles writes: "The fact is that in America, there are rules (call them laws if you like). ACCG is playing by those rules. There are some who would like the rules to be different". Well, quite simply put, those who imported those coins into Baltimore (and we are told it was the ACCG behind this, of which Sayles of Sayles and Lavendar is Executive Director) were not "playing by those rules". On the contrary, they were deliberately breaking the existing law in an attempt to provoke a court case and I think the people supporting this action hope that there it will affect more than Cypriot and Chienese coins. The individuals and organizations behind this shameful action are clearly hoping to overturn any restrictions on the international movement of antiquities. For this reason, I will continue to follow this case with the greatest of attention, and will continue in my blog to express my opinion on the shameful agendas of all those involved in the no-questions-asked trade which are behind it. That's the PNG, the IAPN and the ACCG and all their affiliated clubs and dealers for starters. Shame on the lot of them. What clowns they are making of themselves with this futile action to maintain the nineteenth century approach to antiquity trading into the new millennium.

UPDATE 16/2/10:
Kimberly Alderman has an entertaining post on this text ("Cultural Property Law Deathmatch: The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. The State Department"), it seems she enjoyed it as much as me (" it's the equivalent of cultural property lawyer porn"). She criticises its form and structure and content ("The complaint contains a hefty portion of vague allegations of impropriety, but none of them really stick") and believes that the suit will fail to change cultural property law in the US. So a nuisance claim in effect.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it will change the import restrictions, but it is important to require the government to perform their duties under the law. As alleged in the Complaint, Customs has refused to follow forfeiture procedure, and the State refused to follow CPIA procedure. Holding the Man accountable *is* the only way to ensure he stays on good behavior...

Paul Barford said...

I agree that the government of your country should be held accountable for many things. Whatever my feelings about the antiquities trade etc, its application of the UNESCO 1970 Convention through the CPIA is not high on my personal list of what those things should be. Like many, I would indeed VERY much like to see the Man Held Accountable on these more important things.

But the CPIA itself is a shameful farce. The fact that US dealers in dugup antiquities cannot be bothered to adhere to its very minimal requirements is telling. That they want to weaken it even further is damning.

Don't you think that Customs'"failure" to follow forfeiture procedure in this case was deliberate? Are not Customs leading the dugup dealers' lobby group a merry dance, by this means placing an obstacle in the way of it achieving the results it desires by a more straightforward procedure?

Anonymous said...

Hard to say, but I did wonder myself whether the refusal to initiate formal forfeiture proceedings was intentional. No way to really know at this point. Some government agencies (in every country as far as I've seen) regularly short cut procedure just due to their nature of being run by humans.

Yesterday I was given the compliment that I contribute more written words to the world every day than anyone else my colleague knows. I should be glad my colleague doesn't know you. You write quite a bit!

Paul Barford said...

I like to think it was deliberate.

It seems to me that the people the ACCG are up against know far more what they are doing than the ACCG do. I think I wrote about it way back.

What arrogance to think these pathetic posers can take on the US State Department AND Department of Homeland Security. They are really not up to it, they are being chased into a corner. I'll have a post on that in the next few days, but am bored with going on about the Baltimore Coin Stunt all the time.

Yes I write a lot of words on antiquities etc, keeps my typing fingers busy.

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